How to Hydrate and When to Hydrate for a Race – Getting Started in OCR Series Part 5 of 12

Successful hydration starts long before race day…

how much water do i need to drinkMany people think they can just start increasing their water intake the day before a race and call it good, but proper hydration starts well before that. How long before? Well, experts haven’t exactly nailed that down yet, but they do know we should be paying very close attention to our hydration for the entire week before a race. Even before that, but we are going to focus on the week prior since that week is make it or break it.

So, how much water should you be drinking?

The amount and frequency required for “proper hydration” is specific to each individual and varies based on age, sex, current level of fitness, the climate you live in, including the relative humidity, the type of work you do, your training regimen, your body composition, how much you are sleeping, what your nutrition looks like, your genetic predisposition, your metabolic rate, and other factors not mentioned here.

Sounds easy enough to figure out, right?

While we may not be able to prescribe the exact winning formula for you, we will talk about some of the things you can do to set yourself up for success.

Do I Need a Sports Drink?

Short answer: NO. Most sports drinks such as Gatorade, Powerade, Vitamin Water, and coconut water contain far too much sugar and can actually CAUSE dehydration. And if you think you can dilute them to decrease the sugar content, you are only kind of right. Diluting them also dilutes their sodium content, which you don’t actually want to dilute.

High quality water is what you need to be drinking. Yes, we are concerned about potassium, sodium, and sucrose/glucose/amino acids, but drinking sports drinks with high levels of sugar will not solve these problems. We have included this link to the importance of magnesium, the balance of magnesium in our bodies, and what can go terribly wrong when we deplete our magnesium, which is exactly the problem too much sugar can add to.

What Happens if I’m Not Hydrated?

The initial indicators of not being hydrated include feeling like garbage. Dizzy, fuzzy headed, heavy, slow, and generally like you aren’t going to have a very strong race. Your ability to perform during the race will decrease while your perceived exertion rate will be at an all-time high. Imagine trying to drive 55mph while still in first gear. Nothing about that feels good!

Having a bad or slow race is actually the best case scenario if you are dehydrated. The worst case is being hospitalized due to dehydration. Believe me… It happens faster than you can imagine and takes a lot longer to recover from than you might think. Add heat to the equation, and you can end up in a truly life-threatening situation with heat stroke.

How Do I Hydrate The Week Before a Race?

Start by taking an assessment. How conditioned are you? How strenuous is your day to day work? How hard are you training? What is your age? What is your level of fitness? What is the climate/elevation like where you live? What is the climate/elevation like where you will be racing?

The older you are, the less conditioned you are, and the harder you are training and working on a daily basis, the more water you will need to drink. I always recommend shooting for a gallon and see how you feel. Some people will notice they spend ALLLLLLL day in the bathroom. We don’t want this. Some people will notice they have finished their gallon before they are even home from their work day. In this case, drink more. The main point when trying to figure out your hydration needs is to constantly self assess.

Skip all alcoholic beverages at least 3-4 days before your race.

During the Race

best camel back for racingWe typically use our hydration packs for any course that is longer than 8 miles, or for the hot races. The thought process is that the hydration pack will not slow us down nearly as much as ending up dehydrated and trying to go 55mph while in first gear.

Carrying the hydration pack also gives us a place to store any bars/gels/packets with us while we are racing. We have been known to add a little pedialyte to our hydration packs from time to time too. Just a little though.

We also carry pickle juice in small containers in our hydration packs. If you’ve never tried this trick for cramps, you have to try it. We have said during so many races that pickle juice is the MVP. You can read more about how to prevent or end cramps while racing in this blog post. 

If you want more…

In the process of creating the outline for this topic of hydration, I came across this great blog post that gets a little more scientific about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of hydration without completely losing the reader in the science:

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